Exam booklets to stay anonymous

University Senate votes against a motion that would have required students to write their names on final exams

Student leaders favouring the current system of identification only by student number on final examination booklets made their presence known at yesterday’s University Senate meeting, where a motion was put forward to require students to write their names on examination papers.

The motion to suspend the Identification of Students on Final Examinations policy was brought forward by Diane Beauchemin, a faculty senator for Arts and Science and a professor in the chemistry department.

In the motion, Beauchemin argued for the suspension of the policy on the grounds that there are financial implications of only using student numbers, and there has been no hard evidence of bias in exam marking associated with using students’ names.

The motion was defeated by a vote of 20-4, with the Senate just meeting its quorum requirements of one-third of the Senate, or 23 senators.

Beauchemin told the Journal she had been pursuing the policy change because it would make entering final examination marks easier.

“It is easy to make a mistake [entering student numbers],” she said. “Switch two numbers [and] you have another student.”

Beauchemin said her department has faced additional costs associated with only using student numbers on exams, though she said she was unsure of the amount.

“We had to hire someone [to enter the marks],” she said. “That’s something people [had] not budgeted for when this proposal was put forward.”

AMS President Ethan Rabidoux said the AMS supports the use of only student numbers on final examinations because of concerns about unconscious bias on the part of markers.

“That is based on the belief [that] you want to remove any elements that could possibly lead to bias,” he said. “Some students go out of their way to get to know a professor. That should never factor into exam marking, and we’re not saying it’s deliberate, but it could happen.”

Rabidoux added the Senate Committee on Academic Procedures (SCAP) also supported the student number-only identification on final examinations.

Following the results, Beauchemin said she will not continue to pursue a change in the final examination policy.

“Obviously I was in the minority,” she said. “It was important to bring [my concerns] up, [but] they do not think it is important.”

Rabidoux said he was pleased with the results.

“Senate came down on the side of students,” he said.

Beauchemin said she isn’t concerned that biased marking could be the result of including names on final examinations.

“With large classes, that is when all the implications of having to hire someone to enter marks [come in],” Beauchemin said. “For large classes, there is no way for the instructor to associate names with specific students.

“There is no way we can have bias—a name doesn’t mean anything.”

University Registrar Jo-Anne Brady said the University has no specific protocol or policy for the marking or transcription of final examination marks, and protocol varies by department and course instructor.

“Exams would be marked by the instructor and then put in some kind of order with only student number, and someone, either the instructor or administrative personnel in the department, would record those marks using either the paper mark sheet or electronic mark system,” she said. “Then [the marks are] checked and double-checked for accuracy [by the Registrar’s office].”

Rabidoux said SCAP has already tried to find a solution to Beauchemin’s concerns about student numbers by putting a bubble component on final examination booklets to add a level of redundancy to student identification.

“There’s concern that with [only a] student number, a seven could look like a one,” he said, as an example. “That’s where you also [need] the spots you fill in later, that ensures there is no doubt what the number is. That didn’t seem to satisfy [Beauchemin].”

According to Senate policy, machine-scored multiple-choice examinations are exempt from the student number-only format as “machine-scored examinations are objective and no bias can be perceived.”

Beauchemin said she has concerns that instructors may be encouraged by the current identification policy to increse the use of multiple-choice questions in final examinations.

“Indeed, because only machine-read multiple-choice exams are exempt from the above policy, there is now a move towards 100 per cent multiple-choice exams,” she wrote in the Senate motion.

Beauchemin added she has concerns about the academic implications of the multiple choice format exams.

“You can't test the same way with multiple choice that you can with essay-type questions,” she said.

In her written statement to the Senate, she stated that in the chemistry department, staff can only afford to transcribe the marks of first-year exams.

“The exam in second year organic chemistry (to give one example) is all multiple choice,” she wrote. “Yet, this format cannot really check if students understand reaction mechanisms, which is central to organic chemistry.”

Rabidoux said he doesn’t see the connection between having student numbers on booklets, and having professors offer only multiple-choice examinations.

“We want to make sure there is a balance on the exams, but I seriously doubt they are connected, in my opinion,” he said. “A bigger cause of that is the mega class sizes: professors with 300 to 400 students.”

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